Can My Diabetes Affect My Feet?

diabetes, feet

More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes (a condition that makes them much more likely to develop the “full-blown” disease in the very near future). This means that all of those men and women are also at greater risk for serious diabetes-related complications, including foot problems like diabetic foot ulcers. More than six percent of people with diabetes wind up developing foot ulcers every year, according to the American College of Physicians (ACP). Over a lifetime, between 19 percent and 34 percent of diabetics will develop at least one foot ulcer. If you have diabetes, here’s what you should know about diabetic foot ulcers and other foot problems you may have to deal with as a result of your disease.

Diabetes and foot problems

Diabetes affects your feet in a few ways. First, diabetes can interfere with normal circulation, making it more difficult for some parts of your body to get the oxygen and nutrients they need for normal health and function. Since your feet are at the farthest point from your heart, they’re more likely to be affected by poor circulation than other parts of your body. Poor foot circulation also makes it much more difficult for feet to heal, if they’ve been cut or injured in some way. Slower healing time may even result in infection.  

At the same time, diabetes affects your nerves, and again, the effects tend to be worse in your feet. Many people with diabetes may have nerve pain or numbness in their feet or toes, a condition called diabetic neuropathy. When numbness spreads, it can make it difficult to tell when your foot has been injured, which means some injuries or problems like ingrown toenails or corns can go untreated. Numbness can also increase your risk of falling.

Numbness and poor circulation are bad enough on their own, but when they’re combined, they can significantly increase your risk of developing a foot ulcer, a deep sore that can take a long time to heal.

The dangers of foot ulcers

Everybody gets a sore or wound now and then from a cut or other injury, and in most cases, our bodies quickly repair the damage, healing injured tissues to keep out germs and prevent infection from occurring. In diabetes, though, the healing response is slowed down, and nerve damage means some injuries may go unnoticed until an infection sets in. In fact, the ACP says as many as half of all diabetic foot ulcers become infected, and about 20 percent of moderate to severe infections result in amputation of a toe or foot.

About 85 percent of all diabetes-related amputations are caused by infected foot ulcers, according to the ACP. That’s bad, but what’s worse is that many of these amputations could be prevented with regular foot care. The ACP estimates as many as 85 percent of diabetes-related amputations could be avoided with regular foot exams by an experienced doctor.

Keep your feet healthy

At Animas Foot and Ankle, we perform comprehensive diabetic foot exams, looking for early signs of injury or other problems that could potentially lead to an infection or ulcer formation. In addition to looking for obvious injuries like cuts and scrapes, we look for more subtle problems that can be overlooked, especially if you have neuropathy. These issues include “common” foot problems like corns, calluses, and ingrown toenails, all of which can pose serious problems if not treated early. We also look for athlete’s foot and other problems that can cause skin injury, leading to a possible infection. Plus, we provide guidance to help you learn simple ways to protect your feet at home so you can play an active role in improving your health and avoiding ulcers and other foot-related problems.

If you have diabetes, making routine foot care part of your regular diabetes treatment regimen is one of the simplest and smartest things you can do to reduce your risks for foot ulcers and amputations. To learn more about the treatment options we offer or to schedule a foot examination and evaluation, book an appointment online today.

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